The outer mitochondrial membrane protein, the voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC), is increasingly implicated in the control of apoptosis. Oligomeric assembly of VDAC1 was shown to be coupled to apoptosis induction, with oligomerization increasing substantially upon apoptosis induction and inhibited by apoptosis blockers. In this study, structure- and computation-based selection of the predicated VDAC1 dimerization site, in combination with site-directed mutagenesis, cysteine replacement, and chemical cross-linking, were employed to identify contact sites between VDAC1 molecules in dimers and higher oligomers. The predicted weakly stable β-strands were experimentally found to represent the interfaces between VDAC1 monomers composing the oligomer. Replacing hydrophobic amino acids with charged residues in β-strands 1, 2, and 19 interfered with VDAC1 oligomerization. The proximity of β-strands 1, 2, and 19 within the VDAC1 dimer and the existence of other association sites involving β-strand 16 were confirmed when a cysteine was introduced at defined positions in cysteineless VDAC1 mutants, together with the use of cysteine-specific cross-linker bis(maleimido)ethane. Moreover, the results suggest that VDAC1 also exists as a dimer that upon apoptosis induction undergoes conformational changes and that its oligomerization proceeds through a series of interactions involving two distinct interfaces. Dissection of VDAC1 dimerization/oligomerization as presented here provides structural insight into the oligomeric status of cellular VDAC1 under physiological and apoptotic conditions.
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